When the summer heat hits Houston, many take refuge indoors to keep cool.
But for one senior resident of District H, keeping cool turned into a summer disaster after thieves stole her window air conditioning unit and gained entrance into her home.
With no means to replace the AC unit and temperatures rising, the woman contacted the city’s Harris County Area Agency on Aging to be added to their Beat the Heat Portable Air Conditioner Program’s waiting list. Made possible through a $25,000 donation from electricity provider Reliant and City of Houston matching funds, the program aims to provide new portable AC units to residents age 60 and over, people with disabilities, and caretakers of children with disabilities.
“She had no other resource to go to,” said Deborah Moore, bureau chief of the Health and Human Services Department’s HCAAA. “She was so grateful that we worked our way down to her name on the list and called her for her to be a recipient of a unit.”
Along with donating funds to purchase portable AC units, Reliant has operated Beat the Heat cooling centers in Houston for the past 12 years.
“The mission of Reliant’s Beat the Heat program is to provide safe, cool places where any Houstonian may go to find relief from the summer heat,” said Elizabeth Killinger, Reliant president.
This year, Reliant is sponsoring five of the city’s multi-service centers as Beat the Heat cooling centers. Each Beat the Heat Center is free and features bottled water, light snacks and entertainment. The program is part of Reliant’s greater initiative to keep Texans cool, with additional centers open in Dallas and Corpus Christi.
The centers are all open all summer, when daily high temperatures routinely spike into the mid-90s, putting those most vulnerable at risk for heat-related illnesses or death.
“Older adults, people with disabilities, and children with disabilities are more vulnerable,” Moore said. “They have a harder time cooling their bodies when they get over heated, which leads to a lot of medical and health related problems.”
From March to August 2016, more than 200 heat-related illnesses and three-heat related deaths occurred in Houston, according to HHD’s August 2016 Heat Surveillance Report.
Moore believes Reliant’s Beat the Heat program plays a vital role in helping communities. And the need is greater than most people realize, she said.
“It’s amazing how many individuals we have that are seniors and people with disabilities, or caregivers of children with disabilities, who are living in houses with no way to cool their homes,” Moore said.
The program distributed 315 portable AC units last year and should distribute more than 200 units this year.
“If individuals had other resources they wouldn’t wait on a waiting list for us to get to them,” Moore said.
Moore said program officials are always open to working with people who want to participate in the project or help sponsor the program.
Recipients of units are provided with tips about staying cool during the hot summer months, education about how to operate and use their AC, bill payment assistance, and other health information.
“It’s an opportunity to educate them about staying safe and healthy in their communities,” Moore said. “If they are unable to stay in their homes and communities, they end up prematurely institutionalized.”
“Since 2005, Reliant has contributed almost $10 million through its Community Assistance by Reliant Energy program for Texans who need help with summer electricity costs, as well as to the City of Houston to help provide eligible seniors with new air conditioning units,” Killinger said.
Along with sponsored Beat the Heat centers, residents can seek relief from the summer heat in any of the city’s 11 multi-service centers located throughout Houston. The multi-service centers are open year-round and offer a variety of activities, programs, and services to the community for free.
“Every year we say all of the things you need to do to not get over heated, but just saying them isn’t enough,’’ Moore said. “You’ve got to help these individuals who are unable to purchase the things that they need and do the things that they need so they can stay healthy.”
To learn more about the city’s Beat the Heat Centers or the Beat the Heat Portable Air Conditioner Program, contact the HCAAA at 832-393-4301. To find a multi-service center in your area, log on to HHD.
All recipients of donated units must attend an education workshop to ensure they know how to operate their unit.
With no other resource to turn to, recipients look to the city for help to cool their homes this summer.
The donated portable AC units are ideal for seniors who may find installation of window units challenging.
Participants receive vital information about ZIKA and all the services the HCAAA provides.
The distribution of the portable AC units are completed at city multi-service centers located throughout Houston.